David Steinbach has a motto that he’s stuck with throughout his 35 years as a high-school tennis coach: quantity plus quality equals success.
It’s an equation that has treated him well. As the coach of the girls’ and boys’ Brookfield Central High School tennis teams, Steinbach has notched over 1,000 victories. He has won 13 state championships, finished runner-up at states another 13 times and collected 28 conference championships.
But most impressive of all, Steinbach has done all of this without ever telling a student that they weren’t good enough to play on his team. The 81-year-old runs a no-cut tennis program: anyone that wants to play, gets to play.
“I’ve always thought that if you cut a person when they’re a teenager, they’ll drop the sport and never pick it up again,” says Steinbach. “It hurts them so much emotionally.”
Steinbach puts a premium on fun in his practices. With loud music and high-intensity drills, he creates an energetic atmosphere that puts an emphasis on accountability, communication, mental toughness and camaraderie. The students love it. This year, Steinbach has 115 girls and 80 boys on his teams.
Managing nearly 200 players is a job all its own. Steinbach divides the students into seven different teams, and thanks to precise scheduling, helpful assistant coaches—and, he stresses, a very understanding wife—he makes sure no student gets lost in the shuffle.
“I love watching him interact with the kids—they completely follow every word that he says,” says Don Kurth, athletic director at Brookfield Central.
“There’s a place for everyone in his program. He’s created that culture. He’s all about etiquette, sportsmanship.
Listening to him address his team, so much of it is about how you conduct yourself, how you behave—all important values that can be lost.”
Steinbach didn’t start playing tennis competitively until college, but he quickly fell in love with what he calls the “perfect” sport. He coached other sports after graduation, but while he loved working with youngsters any chance he could, there was a part of coaching he simply couldn’t stomach.
“When I was a basketball coach, I had to make cuts, and it would kill me,” says Steinbach. “My whole life was built around trying to encourage kids.”
When Steinbach was offered the job at Brookfield Central, he said he’d only accept it if he could run the no-cut program of his dreams. The school agreed, and the rest is history.
Steinbach has been named national coach of the year six times, and thanks to tennis, the Wisconsin native has been able to see the world, from London to Uganda. His players have gone on to earn college scholarships—and some have even taught tennis themselves, furthering his legacy in the game.
But for Steinbach, the most rewarding part of the job is when he goes to a tennis club and he sees a former student, who was maybe the 80th-best player on one of his teams a couple of decades ago, still playing.
That’s the whole point, he says. “Hopefully kids get hooked on the sport and play for a lifetime.”
For generations, and for generations to come, tennis has positively impacted the young and old, on and off the court, in countless ways. In this year’s Heroes special, we’ve selected 30 such stories, including a 10-year-old amputee’s life-changing moment with Roger Federer, the rebuilding of a college program after Hurricane Katrina, a former prodigy’s important message as an adult, and a 78-year-old coach’s enduring influence on the pros. Taken together, these 30 stories illustrate how people grow up, grow as individuals and grow old with tennis—the sport of a lifetime. Click here for more Heroes stories.